For my first book of the year, I sped through Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation, the first in the Southern Reach Trilogy. It is classified as science fiction, but in this case it seems to be a catch-all category of “I dunno. Seems weird.” Science fiction isn’t really a good classification for this odd novel. From the very first moments, it is clear that this strange little book is delving deep into horror.
In Area X, the rules of the world we know are discarded. There is only the alien ecosystem subverting every part of nature. Immediately, things go very wrong indeed. The mission is a complete failure and was seemingly doomed from the start. It’s a world where nothing makes any rational sense and what we can perceive is utterly terrifying. People start to die very quickly. Or do they?
One of the delights of this book is how little it explains. We see effects of strange mutations and organisms, and it’s never explicitly stated what is happening. Because the main character becomes part of the system, we can never see it apart from her perspective. For all her scientific rationalism, she has no explanation for what she is experiencing. Words frequently fail her. There’s a huge gap between what is actually going on and what the character perceives and that gap is never explained. It’s the same device Lovecraftian horror uses and it’s very effective.
I saw the film a little while ago and what was striking reading the book is how radical the adaptation was. It has the same basic premise and characters but goes in different directions. It’s a great example of how to keep the essence of a story, but adapt it to a different medium. The film has horrific moments that aren’t in the book, like the bear with a human scream. Similarly, the book has the Tower, which can only exist in the imagination.
Now to read the next two in the trilogy, please.